Community: “Christmas…it can mean whatever we want.”

“You do, of course, have a constitutional right to lend this season the significance of your choosing in any of our designated holiday zones.”

Last year Community celebrated a few holidays throughout their first season, including Christmas / Hanukkah. But in terms of holiday-centric episodes nothing quite compares to their most recent installment, “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas” (2.11). Although this episode garnered a lot of attention and hype before it even aired, mostly because its use of stop-motion animation, the episode still easily exceeded all expectations.

Christmas and other holiday episodes are so common throughout the TV landscape that it’s often difficult to stand out, avoid clichés, or even be original, but Community managed to do all of the above. “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas” (2.11) wasn’t just a classic retelling of some Christmas story we’ve already heard. Rather, it was a story about finding out what Christmas means to you on a more personal secular level.

Already having tackled the religious side of the holidays last season, Community was free to move the plot along with only a small nod to each of the characters beliefs. The simple act of acknowledging Christmas and Hanukkah’s spiritual and commercial connections prevented the audience from feeling cheated but it also set the set the stage for the deeper exploration into Abed’s quest to find the real meaning of Christmas.

I’ve seen my fair share of holiday special episodes over the years, including Hanukkah and Christmas-ish episodes from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, House M.D., Glee, The O.C., Lie to Me, Chuck, Gilmore Girls, Gossip Girl, Saved by the Bell and more, but “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas” (2.11) from Community is by far my favorite kind of holiday storytelling. If I want the Christian version of Christmas I’ll watch Charlie Brown, but episodes from Community and even The O.C. don’t passively put holiday decorations in the background, complain about the commercialism of the season, rip off It’s A Wonderful Life, and most importantly don’t force one specific view of the holidays down viewers’ throats.

Instead, they encourage us to make our own meaning. Spoiler alert – at the end of the episode Abed explains, “The meaning of Christmas is the idea that Christmas has meaning. And it can mean whatever we want.” For Abed, Christmas used to mean time with his Mom but after this year’s letdown the rest of the study group suggest in song that “Hanging out with the people you love and saying I love you is what Christmas is for”. And in The O.C., Christmas meant the melding of family traditions and the celebration of two heritages in one super holiday Seth liked to call Chrismukkah.

While it’s true that for many people Christmas and Hanukkah means presents and perhaps even has a religious significance, holidays also evoke more personal traditions and rituals. It’s not always about spending time with your actual family or decorating a Christmas tree; sometimes it’s just about calling on the Christmas pterodactyl to save the Christmas spirit.

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